Bah, Lymebug!

The holidays can be rough for those with chronic Lyme disease. Personally, I love Christmas, Thanksgiving and all the rest, but I am not unaware of the fact that many with chronic illness dread this time of year.

If you are one of these, you might notice that around Christmas, your symptoms flare like a bull’s nostrils around a red Santa suit, and perhaps you blame it on the flu season or too many things to do during the holidays. Or you chalk it up to the Lyme bug just doing its normal thing, causing you to flare or do a relapse dance.

The foremost culprit behind increased symptoms, however, often has to do with family. The one time of year that you are obliged to see parents, uncles, aunts, cousins and in-laws is fraught with conflict and guilt over old wounds, whose scabs get torn off every time you have to spend two weeks with your in-laws or with a parent with whom you just don’t get along.

But they’re your family, and you want to enjoy them because, after all, they are family, and it’s Christmas, right?

Besides the tension of past wounds, which the Lyme-free must also deal with, there are other reasons why the holidays aren’t fun for Lyme sufferers.

To begin with, all that pumpkin pie, egg nog and chocolate fudge leave you feeling deprived as you watch your family happily feed their faces with the stuff, while you get to stand by and watch. And if you don’t, then you feel guilty for indulging, because you know you are feeding Borrelia and candida and all the other bugs in your body. Even if you tell yourself that it’s OK to have a gingerbread cookie, a part of you feels bad anyway because you know you’re going to pay for that cookie, in bigger ways than your Cousin Chocoholic, who can seem to get away with emptying a whole box of Russell Stover’s while earning himself little more than a slightly expanded waistline. He doesn’t mind looking like a pot-bellied Buddha, but neither would you if that were the worst thing that chocolate did to you.

And then there are the Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve parties, where friends and family who haven’t seen you for ages ask, “How you are feeling?” instead of the normal, “How are you?” that’s fed to healthier folk. This always initiates another awkward conversation about Lyme disease in which you feel obliged to elaborate on your symptoms and current regimen, even though you go over it a million times a day in your own head and were hoping to forget about it for just one night. Or perhaps the question makes you wonder if people are seeing you for who you are anymore instead of your disease.

Or if you aren’t asked about how you feel, you might be asked the second most common question in America, “So what do you do for work?” (In Costa Rica, where I currently live, this question isn’t usually the first one on the table). If you’re really sick, you might say, “Nothing”, which then leaves you and the listener flailing. Now you either have to talk about your disease or make a really solid attempt to steer the conversation away from you and your illness.

“But you look so good!” Might be the next comment, beneath which seems to lie a judgment about your physical condition and inability to work.

Holidays are also rough for Lyme disease sufferers because they can be a reminder of how many Christmases or Thanksgivings you have now been sick; of how poorly you felt last Christmas, and how many New Year’s Eves have passed since you last had a glass of wine.

They are a reminder of how much money you don’t have to spend on Christmas presents and of how many parties and fun winter events you can’t attend because you just don’t have the energy.

Christmas letters from others can be rough, too. Yeah, you may rejoice because Cousin Joey had another kid, Aunt Josephine got a promotion at work, and your best friend went on a cruise to the Bahamas this year, but the news reminds you of your own would-be Christmas letter, “This year, I herxed and herxed some more…and had fun hanging out on the sofa…”

And then of course, there are the family issues, and how your beloved ones yet fail to understand you. If it was bad before Lyme disease, now it is a disaster. They might judge you for your poor memory or your inability to work or for talking too much about Lyme (well if they wouldn’t ask you about Lyme you might have something else to talk about!).

Bah, Humbug.

I mean… Bah, Lymebug!

What can you do?

Well, if you’re a Christian, I would suggest fixing your gaze upon Jesus and meditating upon His birth and what it has meant for humanity. Remember the real reason for Christmas and spend time talking to Him, the One who understands when others do not. The One you can hang out and enjoy spending time with when you’re too sick to go to any Christmas parties.

Know that He is the greatest gift of the season, because He was born so that you might live forever, in a mansion that He has prepared for you in Heaven, where there will be no more suffering and no more tears. His coming to this world has meant victory over the frustrations and struggles of daily life, because had He not descended to live among us, He would not have become a sacrifice to the world and given us of His spirit, by which we can find peace through all of our difficulties.

Look at Him and praise Him because He is the only Christmas gift you’ll ever need, and is the only gift you need to give others when He truly lives in you.

His fiery light can extinguish the darkness of the holidays, and can free you from the guilt, sadness, rage, envy and covetousness that fill you when you find yourself tormented by haunting memories, lonely nights, or tactless family members.

If you aren’t a Christian, I’d encourage you to check out Jesus as a source of strength during this difficult time. He’s not for everyone, but some find Him to be the perfect gift, one that meets their every need and which they can cherish and love forever.

Whatever your religious bent, however, it is helpful to let go of any expectations that you have towards others and just accept that your friends and family don’t have Lyme disease, and therefore, cannot understand what you are going through, no matter how hard they try. They don’t know the right questions to ask; they don’t understand why you can’t remember things; why you can’t have a glass of wine or why you need to go home from the party early, but that’s okay. You can choose to focus on the good that they bring into your life; the small (even if limited) ways in which they care for you; the Christmas gift they bought you; the interest they took in your life by asking you about your illness; the fact that perhaps they are paying you a compliment when they tell you that you look so blessedly good, even if a bit of judgment belies the sweet words.

And if your relationships with family and friends are awful or nearly non-existent, then why not try to get out for a couple of hours, to spend the holidays at a homeless shelter, an elderly home or with your neighbor who lives alone? There are many lonely souls out there who would delight in sharing the holidays with someone, just anyone. Yes, even with the Lyme-rage lunatic that you (probably mistakenly) think you are.

Or maybe it would be more beneficial for you to ignore the holidays altogether, and live this season as though it were any other. Less challenging might be allowing God to be your companion at Christmas dinner, but you can decide. Last year, I was mostly alone during the Christmas season because I was writing my Lyme book in solitude in the rain forest of Costa Rica. During that time, I spent a lot of time in prayer and lived my life as though it were September instead of December, which helped me to stay sane, since I wasn’t celebrating the holidays with my family and friends.

Focusing on celebrating the holidays in your own special way can be beneficial, too. Who says you have to attend holiday parties? Watching uplifting movies or making healthy holiday treats (I’d suggest Detox Chocolate Chip Cookies from can be just as fulfilling (albeit in a different way), as can sitting next to a warm fire with a good book or chatting on the phone with a Lyme buddy.

And as for the treats…Well, be aware that if you are able to attend holiday events, the fudge will be in your face and you’ll be tempted. You can resist by stuffing yourself full of healthy food before you leave the house, or by bringing some treats with you. Seriously, roasted almonds or pecans can almost compete with chocolate! Or just go ahead and eat that piece of fudge and decide not to worry about it. Get rid of the guilt and second thoughts! Tell yourself that it’s OK to feel like crud for a day or two after your indulgence; after all, it’s not every day that you eat sugar.

Finally, forgive those who have hurt you, in the present as well as the past. Once and for all, forgive them so that you won’t find yourself in a prison of anger and sadness every holiday season. Remember, forgiveness never absolves the conscience of your offender, nor does it excuse their crime, but it does lift a mighty burden from you. Though not easy, through prayer and meditating upon the fact that your family and friends are broken human beings, just like you, forgiveness can be accomplished, melting away the pain in your body and mind. Don’t forget to forgive yourself for the things that you might do wrong this holiday season, too; living with Lyme is difficult and the world isn’t going to end if you lose it with a sibling or eat too many bon bons.

Finally, know that you are of greater value than what, through inflicted wounds, others–or Lyme disease–have inadvertantly assigned to you. You are precious and perfect in God’s sight and no crude or caustic remark from another; no lifeless or sad holiday season can ever subtract the infinite value that has been assigned to you by your creator. If you meditate upon that knowledge, you may find yourself able to love without worrying about whether or how it is returned to you, and to enjoy the mundane as you celebrate the holidays in quieter, but perhaps more special ways.

Personally, I believe that the brightness of the holiday season is made bright by God’s light, not by all the frenzy and fun activities, and not even by the family and friends that surround us (unless of course, they reflect that light!).

But if none of this helps, then look on another “bright” side: at least the full moon isn’t on Christmas this year!